Friday, April 27, 2012

Some Answers, But More Questions

There is a notion, and one that I hold to be true more often than not, that says a serial killer or group of killers doesn't stop killing until they're caught or are dead.

There's no real incentive, when you think about it, for the sociopaths and otherwise mentally ill killers to stop without provocation to do so.

Why would they? They're crazy enough, in the first place, to commit such atrocities, and part of the thrill for them is the cat and mouse game played between police and killer(s).

The serial killer is usually very smart (though demented), organized and purposeful, albeit that purpose is often lost on the sane.

The serial killer doesn't just wake up one day and decide to stop killing. There may be gaps between murders, but they almost always continue until the perpetrator is no longer able to commit them.

So the assertion today on Detroit radio that those responsible for the Oakland County Child Killings are still alive, should be met with a bunch of raised eyebrows.

Note I said "those who are," not "he (or she) who is."

The killings, which occurred in 1976-77, are now 35 years in the rear view mirror. They just stopped one day, lending credence to the belief that the person(s) responsible was/were unable to continue the violence.

I always believed the OCCK were the work of one man. A popular (barely) belief is that the perp was someone named Christopher Busch, who committed suicide in 1978.

Makes sense.

But today on Charlie Langton's show on WXYT-AM (1270), Debra Jarvis, mother of one of the victims, asserted through her attorney Paul Hughes that several people were involved in the killings, and she bases that on the leads provided by an informant known simply as "Bob."

A federal lawsuit was filed this week by Jarvis against the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office, Michigan State Police and others for failing to turn over investigative information requested by the families.

Jarvis, mother of victim Kristine Mihelich (10), told Langton, "I have been in contact with him (Bob) for the past two years and he has information beyond the old newspaper articles… He may be our answer."

Kristine Mihelich, 10 years old when killed in January 1977

Mystery Bob has often gone underground on a whim, sometimes when he's been frustrated by his perceived lack of cooperation by police in regards to his information.

The eyebrow-raising part of all this, to me, is the notion that several people were involved, not just one individual.

Barry King, father of victim Timothy King (11), believes the aforementioned Busch was involved, but King also thinks Busch was just one of several people involved.

"I believe there were a lot of people involved," Barry King said on Langton's show today.

Through Hughes, "Bob" says that the group may have been tied to at least six other murders after the OCCK, but they stopped leaving the bodies in public after nearly being caught doing so with Timothy King's body.

One of the killings, "Bob" says, occurred out of state.

So why did the killings stop, if several people were involved?

Did the gang break up? Did they all die at once? Were they all arrested?

The claims by "Bob" at first blush seem to answer some questions. But, alas, they also appear to simply create brand new ones.

Such is the life of a 35-year-old cold case.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thanks (?) For the Memories

That Marilu Henner---she remembers everything.

No, really---she does.

The actress Henner, 60, is one of 12 people on this planet who has been diagnosed with hyperthymesia, which has nothing to do with temperature, though it sounds like it does.

It has to do with memory.

Henner can literally recall every day of her life after her baptism. Give her a date, any date, and she can tell you details, no matter how mundane.

A skeptic might say, "Well, how do we know that she's just not making the memories up?"

I think that's a fair question.

But only 11 others have this ability/condition/skill, so there must be some tests that are conducted to prove hyperthymesia exists.

Henner, without hesitation, recalls the day she found out she got the part of Elaine on TV's wildly successful "Taxi."

She tells, “It was June 4 of 1978. It was a Sunday and I found out at the ‘Grease’ premiere party. ‘Taxi’ is so vivid to my mind. The very first rehearsal was July the 5th of 1978. That was a Wednesday and our first show was shot the 14th, a Friday.”

Impressive but not unheard of, to recall such a significant moment.

But that's the rub. Those with hyperthymesia can recall every single day of their lives, landmark moment or not.

Henner describes it thusly: Whenever she's given a random date in her life, Henner sees “all these little movie montages, basically on a time continuum, and I’m scrolling through them and flashing through them,” she says.

That either sounds very cool or kinda scary; not sure which.

Elephants have nothing on Henner

Possessing such an iron clad memory would seem to have its downfalls. I don't know if I'd want that many memories clogging my brain, like an overstuffed file cabinet.

But Henner must not mind, because she's eager to talk about it and has written a book, "Total Memory Makeover." In fact, to her, hyperthymesia provides Henner with a sense of self-significance.

“It’s that defense against meaninglessness. I’m not just occupying time.  There’s some significance to what I’m doing and how I’m living my life," she says.

I remember watching actor Ed Begley, Jr. on David Letterman's show years ago and he has the ability to tell you the day of the week of any date in history, within seconds.

Very impressive, but that's mainly a mathematical formula that Begley uses. It's not true memory.

Marilu Henner can recall everything, of everyday of her life. Without fail.

Despite her proclamations to the contrary, I still say, "Better her than me."

After all, Henner can never say that something slipped her mind.

That's too much pressure!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

From Bandstands to Pyramids

There was some cruel irony toward the end of Dick Clark's life.

Clark, the TV producer giant who passed away yesterday at age 82, seemed to be ageless for decades. Many a crack was made about Clark's youthful-looking face and how he looked no older in 1975 than he did in 1955.

It was true. Clark's full, bushy head of hair and twinkling eyes were TV staples almost from the moment he started a local show based in Philadelphia named "Bandstand," way back in 1952.

The name later was changed to "American Bandstand" as the show grew in popularity and went national.

Clark eventually branched out to game show producing, which made a mint for colleagues like Merv Griffin and Ralph Edwards. Clark made a mint, too, whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera, hosting shows like "The $10,000 Pyramid," which later upped its title ante to $25,000.

But "American Bandstand" was always his baby and the show Clark was most closely associated with until he helped us ring in the New Year back in 1972 . It didn't hurt that fellow industry giant Barry Manilow penned and sang the official "Bandstand" theme song.

Through it all, Clark's ageless looks were his trademark.

That's why I say cruel irony invaded, toward the end.

Dick Clark didn't age for over 40 years, then all of a sudden he became old faster than bananas left on the kitchen counter.

A stroke was the main culprit, robbing him of much of his coherent speech and severely contorting his face, which wasn't so young-looking anymore.

It was wince-inducing, watching Clark gamely try to make it through the countdown to the ball dropping in Manhattan on recent New Year's Eves. He was difficult to understand, his voice was like sandpaper, and you half wished Dick would have gently backed away from "Rockin' Eve" duties entirely.

But easy for me to say when someone who had cameras and microphones coursing through his blood for just about his whole life, should call it quits.

Clark didn't age for decades, then aged all at once, it seemed.

This is another legend leaving our midst, make no mistake about it. Just because the recent Dick Clark wasn't the Dick Clark we remembered---physically---doesn't mean his place in television history is any more threatened.

Clark's production company brought us hundreds of thousands (at least) of hours of TV enjoyment. He didn't host them all---he couldn't, possibly---but he was as integral as one could be to their creation and longevity.

Clark took a small gamble back in 1998 when he put Donny and Marie Osmond back together, this time as talk show hosts. Would the nation watch the brother and sister tandem in a different milieu than their more customary variety show one?

They did, and the show lasted two strong seasons. Another Dick Clark success story.

Clark was also marvelous as host of "Pyramid," and you could tell that he had emotional investment in the show and was closely involved with the game's rules and format. When contestants would play for the "big money," one-on-one with a celebrity with that big pyramid board flipping its squares above as the clock ticked, it was Clark who set the stage with his last-minute instructions and his famous, "Ready---GO!"

It was also Clark who would gently remind the contestants of where they erred and how they could have done it differently. Always with empathy, never with smarm.

Dick Clark never got old, until the very end.

You can't say the same about his legacy; that truly is timeless and will never age.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Phoney Baloney

I'm about ready to rip the phone out of the wall. All four of them.

You ever walk by those skeletons of days gone by---the pay phone? Or rather, where a pay phone used to be? The useless wires dangling from the back of the unit, the actual phone itself long gone?

That's what I'd like our bedrooms and kitchen and basement to look like---the remnants of where a land line phone used to be.

They say that the land line is about to go the way of the pay phone. That time can't come soon enough, frankly.

The only reason we have land line phone service, nearest I can tell, is to be harassed at all hours of the day and night. Because it certainly isn't to make phone calls, or to receive any meaningful ones.

My wife and I use our cell phones to place calls, even from the home. Same with our daughter. My wife's mother, who we live with, takes only a handful of calls a month---usually from doctor's offices, confirming appointments. And mom-in-law doesn't really place any calls, either.

Weapon of mass frustration

The other 98% of the time, the phone rings with the telecommunications version of e-mail spam.

How and when did this happen? When did the home telephone, i.e. the "land line," turn into nothing more than an annoyance whose ringing wants me to stick knitting needles into my eyes?

The average phone "conversation" in our house, when it involves an incoming call, lasts about two seconds, on average. That's because the first thing we hear is the obvious bleatings of a pre-recorded message.

That's when the receiver gets hung up, forthwith.

The home telephone used to be a lifeline of sorts. Maybe even a life blood. Remember how lost you'd feel when the phone service would go out? There was a feeling of disconnect---literally---from the outside world.

There was nothing sadder than the sound of dead silence when lifting a phone whose service was down.

Now, I would give my left ear to have the damn thing shut off for good.

The only reason we maintain land line service is that we have our Internet service through the phone company. It seems like too much work to combine our phone and satellite TV services.

So we have the desire to remove our phones but we lack the will, apparently.

The result is that we pay some $40 a month to be harassed.

Forty bucks a month to hear that we are winners of cruises we never entered the contests of; $40 to be asked several times a month of anyone in our household has diabetes; $40 to be hung up on when we answer the phone (that's the one that gets me).

We sometimes let the offending calls go to the machine, but 2/3 of the time no one leaves a message.

Can't be that important, then.

The phone used to be the center of a hotbed of activity. It's how play dates were made, how we spoke to businesses, how we got news from our family members.

It would also strike fear into the hearts, when it dared to ring at 3:00 a.m.

Nothing good happens at 3:00 a.m, except child birth, and no one calls about that until after 9:00.

So we have four of these instruments of harassment plugged into our walls: one in the basement, one in the kitchen, and two in bedrooms. We literally groan when they ring. No kidding.

Somehow, like the pay phone, the land line phone became a victim of cell phones, the Internet, and plain old apathy.

It now almost represents a simpler time of letter writing, bike riding and manual transmission.

The land line phone---a museum artifact in our very own homes!

But get it out of my house. Seriously.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Heady Issue

I don't ride a motorcycle, but if I did, and decided that I wanted the "freedom" to go sans helmet, I think I'd be cursing that freedom as I was hurdling mid-air after being thrown from my bike.

But that's just me.

And that's the point, I suppose, of Governor Rick Snyder's signing off on a change in the state law that now makes the wearing of a motorcycle helmet optional.

Read: to each his (or her) own.

Personal freedom is a great thing, but you know how that goes: as long as it doesn't infringe on the freedoms of others.

That's why I applaud the removal of virtually all cigarette smoke in public places.

And that's why I'm, ultimately, OK with the new motorcycle helmet thing.

If some nut cares not to wear protective head gear that can save his life, then who am I to tell him he can't? More importantly, who is the state to tell him?

Because, you see, a biker going bare-headed doesn't impact me, really. I venture onto the roads in my car aiming not to get into an accident, anyway. Much less with a motorcycle, and much more less with a motorcycle whose rider has eschewed a helmet.

Get me?

Now, if said bare-headed rider was somehow infringing upon me, or was making me uncomfortable or ruining my good time on the highways and bi-ways, that's a different story.

What about insurance rates, you might ask.

What about them? Seems that they'll raise your premiums for one thing or another, anyway. I don't think I was saving any money by Michigan having a mandatory helmet law, and nor am I expecting my rates to shoot up because of the change.

If my insurance carrier wants to raise my premiums, they'll find a reason. They don't need a change in the motorcycle helmet law to provide it for them.

The funny thing is that both sides on this issue claim the facts are on their side; the pro-helmet people say the law saved money, while the let-me-go-without-a-helmet people say states who have mandatory helmet laws realize no savings whatsoever.

I don't really know who to believe, but the bottom line is I really don't care.

I am tempted to now call for a repeal of the seat belt law, but two things about that: 1) I wear mine all the time anyway; and 2) accidents involving only cars far outnumber those that include a motorcycle. So I do believe that seat belt laws directly influence insurance rates; that makes sense to me.

With motorcycles, not so much.

Personally, I would no sooner hop on a motorcycle without donning a helmet than I would step off the roof of a tall building, but again, that's just me.

So all you motorcyclists out there longing to ride with the wind whipping through your helmet-less hair: more power to you.

Your guts may only be exceeded by your stupidity, but what do I know?

Again, that's just me.

Monday, April 9, 2012

He Rarely Knocked

Television was a stay-at-home industry before Mike Wallace, Don Hewitt and the rest of the gang at "60 Minutes" began lugging cameras, microphones and lights on the road, storming the offices of the nefarious, the suspect, the infamous.

Before "60 Minutes," which debuted in 1968, TV news was strictly done from the confines of a studio. The Cronkites, Huntleys and Brinkleys were anchormen in the literal sense---they were anchored to their desks. For decades, no one knew what those newsmen looked like from the waist down.

Even Edward R. Murrow's groundbreaking "Person to Person" featured Murrow in the studio---chatting up a guest who was in his/her home. Murrow and his crew didn't come calling.

That all changed when Hewitt, "60 Minutes" executive producer, and Wallace---one of several on-air hosts/interrogators---came up with an idea for a "news magazine" show that would involve the cameras being mobile, the subjects being hunted down, and the questions being harder than a jawbreaker.

Wallace, who died the other day at age 93---following Hewitt's death by almost three years---was perhaps the most famous of the "60 Minutes" dogs who treated news stories like a pork chop bone.

Wallace would sit, calm, cool and collected, across from his quarry, who was much less comfortable. The sweat would pour, the face would turn pale and the nervous ticks were beamed into our living room. The guests', not Wallace's.

A visit by Mike Wallace and his camera crew, for the shady, was tantamount to a trip to the dentist for a root canal---sans anesthetic.

Of course, Wallace didn't always set up an appointment; his kind of TV was guerrilla television---a pop quiz of immense magnitude.

Geraldo Rivera and every local yocal TV news "problem solver" owes his or her vocation to Mike Wallace, Morley Safer and the rest of Hewitt's raiders.

Wallace went to the University of Michigan and remained close to his alma mater, though he was born in Brookline, MA, more famously known as the birthplace of the Kennedy political brothers.

Wallace (left) with fellow guerrilla reporter Harry Reasoner

The list of subjects that Wallace interviewed is too voluminous, of course. But suffice it to say that if anyone was anyone, Wallace asked him/her questions. And sometimes Wallace asked the unknown, the low profile, questions as well. And those answers were often just as important and eye-opening as anything uttered by the famous.

"60 Minutes" was groundbreaking, and Wallace did most of the breaking. His professional dealings with Hewitt were famously pointed and occasionally bitter, filled with disagreements. But their turbulent executive producer/on-air talent relationship also made "60 Minutes" such a great program.

Wallace's decades-long entrenchment at "60 Minutes" was fait accomplit, to hear him say it.

“I determined that if I was to carve out a piece of reportorial territory for myself it would be [doing] the hard interview, irreverent if necessary, the fa├žade-piercing interview," he once said.

He did do that.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Amanda's New Show

The mug shot, in its current state, is as much a part of our culture as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet.

That wasn't always the case.

The mug shot---and this isn't all that long ago---was once a found treasure, if one of a celebrity was ever unearthed. Mug shots released to the general public used to be photos of the common criminals, only released to assist in identifying possible perpetrators, or to find thugs on the lamb.

Now, the mug shot is an expected item whenever someone in the public eye is taken into custody---whether for rape, murder or a sit-in protest.

Thanks to the Internet, the mug shot travels around the globe within seconds, and back again. And again.

The celebrity mug shot is usually of the individual with a knowing twinkle in the eye, or a smirk or a look of sheepishness.

Another of those mug shots was released today. It's another of a young adult, a former child actress, booked on DUI charges.

Amanda Bynes is 26 years old now (her birthday was Tuesday). Seems like it was just yesterday when she was a nubile teen with her own hit show on Nickelodeon---an adorable waif with tender comedic skills.

Bynes abruptly "retired" from acting a few years ago, for reasons never really made clear.

Regardless, she's no less of a celebrity when it comes to the mug shot.

Amanda Bynes, according to the West Hollywood Police Dept.'s camera

Bynes's Kewpie doll face is zooming around the Internet today, after she was booked early today by West Hollywood police on suspicions of DUI.

The "suspicions" arose when Bynes struck a L.A. County Sheriff Deputy's car with her own.

That's a pretty strong suspicion.

Bynes was apprehended on the spot, and thrown into the slammer under $5,000 bail.

This isn't her first brush with the law, nor her first this year.

According to GossipCop, about a month ago Bynes was pulled over by police in L.A. for talking on her cell phone while driving, and then sped away.

That's not a constructive way to spend your retirement.

In all seriousness, these may be blips on the screen, and Bynes may not technically be an entertainer anymore, but let's hope she's not going down the Lindsay Lohan path of womanhood.

Lord knows we've seen enough mug shots of Lohan to last us a lifetime.

Maybe Amanda Bynes needs to return to acting. Seems like she may have too much idle time on her hands in her "retirement."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Far in 44?

We love anniversaries in this country, good, bad or those of infamy.

The dates dance around our minds: December 7; November 22; September 11; July 4.

Today is another one of those dates.

It was 44 years ago today when James Earl Ray took aim and cut down Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis, TN.

There's film footage of U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, addressing a crowd and breaking the news to them of Dr. King's assassination. There are audible gasps and cries of anguish heard.

Kennedy himself would be murdered about two months later.

I suppose the anniversary of Dr. King's murder is as good as time as any to ponder: have things gotten any better, really, in this country when it comes to race relations?

Is it mere irony or an indictment on us as a society that April 4 arrives as the nation is still loitering around the water cooler, talking about the February 26 killing of Trayvon Martin?

The Martin case would appear to be a prime example of how little we've come re: how blacks are perceived by non-blacks.

April 4, 1968; Memphis, TN

You don't want to think that we've done little to no evolving since April 4, 1968, but I submit that it would be a tough case for you to make that we have---evolved, that is.

More like spinning our wheels, it seems at times.

Yes, we have a black president. Yes, blacks have ascended to other positions of authority where they hadn't in 1968. That's all well and good.

But are those exceptions rather than the rule?

It's 2012, some 44 years after Dr. King said on the night before his death that "I may not get there with you", and being a young black male wearing a hoodie is no less dangerous than being of color in 1968 and before.

I'm not suggesting that Dr. King died in vain. But nor can I confidently say that his death paved the way for improved race relations.

Can you?